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Japan-India nuclear pact clears Lower House despite opposition concerns

Kyodo

A civilian nuclear cooperation pact between Japan and India cleared the Lower House on Tuesday, paving the way for Tokyo to export nuclear power equipment and technology to the fast-growing economy not part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As the Lower House takes precedence in approving treaties, the bill is set to gain Diet approval despite fears expressed by the opposition bloc that the South Asian nation could make military use of the technology.

The pact, signed in November when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Tokyo, prohibits New Delhi from using nuclear materials and technologies for developing atomic bombs and requires the country to accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Under the accord, India may reprocess nuclear materials and byproducts, but cannot make highly enriched uranium without approval from Japan. Highly enriched uranium has the potential for use in nuclear weaponry.

A separate document confirmed that Japan will halt the nuclear deal if India breaks its 2008 promise to maintain a moratorium on nuclear testing.

The main opposition Democratic Party has spoken out against the bill, pointing out that since the provision to suspend the treaty was not included in the pact, there is no explicit guarantee to limit the use of nuclear technology.

Tokyo has insisted that the treaty enables a strong response — by suspending cooperation — if India were to conduct nuclear tests. Unlike nuclear deals with Jordan and Vietnam, however, the India-Japan accord does not specify nuclear testing as a condition for terminating the agreement.

Opposition parties have asked the government why there is no mention of “nuclear test” as a condition to halt the pact. During negotiations, India had firmly rejected adoption of the wording.

Adding to concerns is a provision that gives special consideration in cases where a third-party state acts in a way that threaten’s India’s national security. This has sparked controversy because the language is vague as to Japan’s response under the scenario.

Referring to the provision, Democratic Party Lower House member Rintaro Ogata cautioned last week that if India conducts a nuclear test as a countermeasure to any similar experiment by Pakistan, Japan may not be able to terminate the agreement.

Whether a subcritical nuclear experiment would constitute a deal-breaker under the accord also remains unclear. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has said Tokyo will “respond appropriately” if it confirms such tests have taken place, but he stopped short of saying whether Japan will suspend cooperation under the deal.

India conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998 without joining the NPT, which is designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Some civic groups in Japan oppose the pact, saying it goes against the nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament goals of a country that stands as the sole victim of nuclear attack.

An international ban on the export of nuclear plant equipment to India was lifted in 2008, prompting Tokyo to begin negotiating the civilian cooperation pact in 2010. India has already signed similar nuclear deals with Britain, France, Russia and the United States among other countries.

India is estimated to possess up to 120 nuclear warheads.